“ Consider the Source” Scholarly Journals and Popular Magazines a tutorial created by Jenny Saxton Reference Librarian
Welcome! This tutorial should take you about 10 minutes to complete.
By the end of this tutorial you should have a better understanding of the difference between scholarly journals and popular magazines.
Why should I care about the difference between scholarly journals and popular magazines?
While popular magazines can provide useful information, they are sometimes insufficient for research papers on serious topics.
For example, let’s say you need some articles for a research paper you’re writing on anorexia. An issue of the popular magazine Woman’s Day might contain an interesting article about anorexia, but it will not be as in-depth or authoritative as an article in a scholarly publication such as The International Journal of Eating Disorders .
When you hand in your bibliography for your research paper, your instructor will want to see that you have chosen the most appropriate sources of information on your topic.
Okay, so how do I tell the difference between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine?
You’re probably familiar with what a popular magazine looks like. Time , Newsweek , Sports Illustrated , Better Homes and Gardens , Ebony , and Glamour are examples of popular magazines. They’re usually printed on glossy paper and contain lots of color pictures and advertisements.
Now, take a look at some examples of scholarly journals. Often, they look very plain, and usually contain articles with lots of text. Pictures may be included, but are typically limited to charts, graphs, or diagrams.
Next, think about the publication’s audience. For whom are the articles written? Scholarly journals are usually geared toward people who work in a particular profession. The American Journal of Physics , for example, is primarily for physicists. The articles are written with the assumption that the reader is familiar with physics terminology and concepts.
Sports Illustrated , on the other hand, is a magazine that is meant for anyone interested in sports. You don’t have to be an athlete or an expert on sports to fully understand the articles. Popular magazines are written with the general public in mind.
The next thing to consider is the publication’s purpose. The main purpose of a scholarly journal is to report on research that has been conducted in a particular field, and to communicate information that is important to the people involved in that field. A nurse who reads the American Journal of Nursing on a regular basis will be better informed, and better able to do her job effectively.
Scholarly journals are sometimes referred to as professional journals, academic journals, scientific journals, peer-reviewed journals, or refereed journals. The words “peer-reviewed” and “refereed” mean that before an article is published, it is reviewed by a panel of experts to make sure it adheres to certain academic standards. Because of this, the information found in scholarly journals is usually very reliable.
Unlike scholarly journals, the main purpose of popular magazines is to entertain, advertise products, or promote a particular viewpoint.
Here are two magazines, The New Yorker and The National Review . The articles in The New Yorker usually represent a liberal point of view, while the articles in The National Review are more conservative. Not all magazines lean toward a particular viewpoint, but it’s not uncommon.
One way of telling whether a publication is a magazine or a journal is to look at its title. Many scholarly journal titles include the word “journal,” as in The New England Journal of Medicine .
The word “quarterly” is often part of a journal title as well, since many journals are published quarterly (4 times a year), while popular magazines are usually published monthly or weekly.
Words like “research” and “studies” are also commonly found in journal titles, as in the Bulletin of Latin American Research, or Studies in 20 th Century Literature .
But wait a second… Here’s a publication called Ladies’ Home Journal . It has the word “journal” in the title, but is it a scholarly journal?
No. You can tell just by looking at the cover that it’s a popular magazine, like the kind you’d find in the supermarket check-out line. The most obvious clue? The photo of Jennifer Lopez, of course! As an entertainer, it’s very unlikely that she would appear on the cover of a scholarly journal.
Great, but I don’t have the actual publications in front of me to see what they look like. All I have is a list of articles I found by searching an electronic database. How can I tell which articles come from scholarly journals and which come from popular magazines?
Good question! When you are searching for articles in an electronic database such as Academic Search Premier or Expanded Academic ASAP, your search results may include articles from both magazines and journals.
The example below shows two articles on cloning found in the Expanded Academic ASAP database. One is from a magazine and the other is from a journal. Let’s look at some clues that will help you to determine which is which.
First, look at the titles of the publications. The first article comes from Perspectives in Biology and Medicine , and the second comes from U.S. News & World Report .
Doesn’t “ Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ” sound like something that is intended mainly for biologists and people who work in the medical profession? The title “ U.S. News and World Report ” does not refer to a particular profession. It sounds like a general publication intended for everyone.
Another clue is the length of the articles. The article from Perspectives in Biology and Medicine is 14 pages long, while the article from U.S. News and World Report is only 349 words, which is less than one page.
A 14-page article on cloning (or most any subject) obviously contains a lot of detailed information. An article that is less than one page couldn’t possibly provide more than a simple overview of the subject.
By now you’ve probably guessed that Perspectives in Biology and Medicine is a journal, and U.S. News and World Report is a magazine. Not all journal titles refer to a particular profession, and not all journal articles are long, but these characteristics do tend to be associated with journals rather than magazines. What are some other clues?
If the full text of the article is available in the database, open it and take a look at it. If the article includes footnotes, a list of works cited, and/or a bibliography, it probably comes from a scholarly journal. The example below is part of a bibliography from an article in the journal S tudies in Short Fiction . Popular magazine articles seldom include these kinds of references.
So if scholarly journals contain more in-depth and authoritative information, should I just forget about popular magazines?
Not necessarily. It depends on your research paper topic. If you’re writing a research paper on a current event or topic like the war in Iraq, affirmative action, or the use of steroids in sports, you might find some good information in magazines such as Time , Newsweek , and U.S. News and World Report . For a paper on the use of steroids in sports, you might even find a good article in Sports Illustrated .
However, for these topics you probably wouldn’t want to use a magazine like Rolling Stone . While Rolling Stone does include articles on social issues, its main focus is on music and entertainment. The same goes for a magazine like Vogue , which focuses mainly on fashion.
Your goal is to choose a publication that is appropriate for your topic. Ready to give it a try? Sure, let’s keep going!
First, let’s review what we’ve learned so far by taking a look at these two publications, Psychology Today and the American Journal of Psychology . Both obviously focus on psychology, but only one is a scholarly journal. Can you tell which one?
If you chose the American Journal of Psychology , you’re right! Judging from the serious look of the cover and the word “journal” in the title, the American Journal of Psychology is clearly a scholarly journal.
The slick, colorful, more enticing cover of Psychology Today leads us to identify it as a popular magazine.
Now let’s try it without looking at the covers. Here are two articles on childhood obesity from the Academic Search Premier database. Which one comes from a scholarly journal?
Did you say the second article? Excellent! You probably remembered that articles in scholarly journals tend to be longer and more serious than articles in popular magazines. The second article in this example is 12 pages long, while the first is only one page long.
Take another look at article number 1, the article from the popular magazine. Notice that no author’s name appears. Magazine articles may or may not include an author’s name, but journal articles usually do.
Now, suppose you’re in the library periodicals department browsing the shelves of magazines and journals. You pick up a copy of a publication that contains recipes, movie reviews, and home decorating ideas. What can you assume? Is this publication a popular magazine or a scholarly journal?
A popular magazine? Is that your final answer?
That’s correct! Popular magazines like Southern Living may contain things like recipes, movie reviews, or home decorating ideas, but scholarly journals typically do not. Journals usually contain essays or the results of research studies. Looks like you’re catching on!
Let’s try one more exercise: How would you classify this publication, Gentleman’s Quarterly ? Magazine or Journal?
With a movie star like Orlando Bloom on the cover, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at a popular magazine. If you guessed correctly, good for you! Magazine
How about Shakespeare Quarterly ? Magazine or Journal?
If you guessed it’s a journal, bravo! Again, the serious look of the cover is the main clue. This publication contains essays by literary scholars who study the works of William Shakespeare. Journal
Now that you’ve gotten the hang of distinguishing between magazines and journals, there’s one more thing to do… Magazine Journal
You need to know how to determine which sources are best for your research paper.
I used a database and found a lot of articles for my research paper on hybrid cars. I chose 4 that look pretty good. What next?
We’ll start by deciding which of the articles are from magazines and which are from journals. In this case, you should be able to tell just by looking at the titles of the publications.
Yes, 1 and 2 are from magazines, and 3 and 4 are from journals. Let’s look at the magazines first. The title Popular Mechanics suggests that this is a magazine designed for people who are interested in mechanical things, like hybrid cars. But what kind of magazine is People Weekly ?
If you’re able to look at a copy of People Weekly , or use the database to look at other articles from this magazine (you can ask a librarian for help with this), you will see that it focuses mainly on movie stars and other celebrities. So, even though it contains an article on hybrid cars, it’s probably not the best source of information on this topic.
Next, we’ll look at the journals. Notice the title of article number 4. Sounds pretty complicated, doesn’t it? Remember that journal articles are usually written by experts for experts, so they can sometimes be so scholarly that the average person might have trouble understanding them. Unless you’re writing an extremely detailed, scientific paper on hybrid cars, article number 4 probably won’t be very useful.
So the winners are... Article number 1, from the magazine Popular Mechanics , and article number 3, from the journal Mechanical Engineering .
Good work! By now you should be familiar with some of the ways of distinguishing between magazines and journals, and you should be better able to choose the best sources for your research papers. It seems pretty easy, but what if I need more help?
Glad you asked! The examples in this tutorial are pretty straightforward, but there are many exceptions to the rules. With some publications, it can be a lot more difficult to decide if they are magazines or journals. There are even some scholars and librarians who can’t agree on which is which. Journal Magazine
Fortunately, there are tools in the library that can help.
If you’re having trouble evaluating a particular publication, visit the Reference and Information Services Desk and ask the librarian for one of the following books:
Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory
Magazines for Libraries
These books contain descriptions of thousands of magazines and journals.
The Kendall Campus Library Reference and Information Services Desk is located on the 2 nd floor of building 2. Reference Librarians are happy to assist you with your information needs. You can reach us by phone at (305) 237-2077 or (305) 237-2292.
Here’s a link to a one-page handout that provides a brief review of what you’ve learned in this tutorial. If you’d like, you can print it or bookmark it for future reference. http:// faculty.mdc.edu/jsaxton/magazinesandjournals.pdf Thank you for completing this tutorial! Please let us know if you found it helpful by responding to a quick, one-question survey . See you in the Library!